When you talk to people about their salvation, do they speak in the past tense or the present tense? From my personal experience, I find that people most often refer to an event that happened in the past without focusing on the present reality of their salvation. It’s a common thing here in the south. I suspect it’s common in most places. When you ask a person if they are saved, they will often respond by saying, “Yes sir, I did that when I was 7 years old.” Others will commonly refer to their salvation by using language such as, “I was saved when I was 10 years old at Vacation Bible School.”
That’s nice, but what about now? Are you being saved today? If you were to ask someone that question, they would likely be confused. Being saved, what does that mean? However, that is exactly what Paul said to the church at Corinth in the first two verses of chapter fifteen.
1 Corinthians 15:1-2 – Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
The choice of vocabulary by Paul is interesting. In verse 2, he talked about “being saved.” That verb is in the present tense rather than the past tense. His focus was on the present reality rather than the past event. Not long ago, I was preaching a series of sermons from 1 Corinthians 15 and was taken captive by these two short verses while attempting to read past them quickly to get to verses 3-4. My error on that day was a common mistake of all Christians as we read the Bible. I’m convinced that much truth falls through the cracks as we breeze past weighty verses in our attempt to complete our reading for the day. I almost missed these verses and the grand truths that they hold. Below you will see three important truths related to the present tense state of salvation that we must not forget as we continue to press on toward eternity.
1. The present tense salvation validates the past tense event
Each day our lives should be marked with a lasting change and commitment to follow Christ. If we are still standing firm in the gospel and show ourselves to be humble servants of our King, we can be assured that our past event was legitimate. We cannot afford to play the fool’s game of trusting in our prayer (in the past) if our lives (in the present) don’t demonstrate a commitment to follow Christ each day. How many people do we know who have “prayed a prayer” and been baptized, but have walked away from the church of Jesus Christ? Their lives show no submission to Christ. Their lives are summed up in following self and satisfying their own flesh. How many of those people are clinging to their past tense event to calm their troubled soul? Paul did not give any “wiggle room” in this area. He said to the church at Corinth, “and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” The key is the “if” clause. In other words, they had no reason for assurance in their past profession if their present life was not rooted and grounded in the faith.
2. The present tense salvation provides hope that overcomes doubt
If a Christian lives long enough, he or she will eventually have some form of doubt concerning their faith. That could be as a result of sin in their life or as a result of a genuine spiritual attack from Satan. The best way to experience victory over such doubts and to conquer fears is by examining the reality of a present tense salvation. In other words, if you find yourself going through such valleys, you can be delivered from the dungeon of doubting castle (to use a line from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress) by examining yourself and seeing that you are in the faith. This proof shines brightly from a life of consistent gospel embracing, Bible believing, sin fighting, faith living, Jesus following perseverance. Notice that I didn’t say a perfect life. It’s impossible to achieve sinless perfection in this life, but we are to be striving to live a life of holiness and submission to Christ.
3. The present tense salvation is where Jesus, Paul, and James all unite
The present tense salvation is something Paul taught and emphasized in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 and alludes to in other places such as 2 Corinthians 5:17. Jesus taught this principle too as He made massive statements of Christian truth such as, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). The emphasis is upon a continual life of submission and obedience. As we read the New Testament, we are reminded of the words of James, the half brother of Jesus. James made an emphatic statement that should ring in our ears. In James 2:20 he writes, “faith without works is dead.” How does that square with Paul who stated in Ephesians 2:8-9 that a person is saved by faith and not as a result of works? The words of James, Jesus, and Paul are all united in the reality of a present tense salvation of perseverance that validates the past tense event. In other words, if a person is persevering in the life of faith and keeping the commandments of Jesus – that individual can rest in the assurance of their salvation. Faith produces works, but works cannot produce faith. The essence of obeying Jesus and working for God find their source in saving faith.
John Piper has stated, “It is true that God will never forsake His own children. But the proof that we are His children is that He works in us the vigilance not to forsake Him. God’s not forsaking us is the work He does in us to keep us from forsaking Him (Philippians 2:12-13).“1
The danger of those who live in the past tense salvific event rather than a present tense persevering life of faith is that they likely find themselves clinging to that event as their clincher in salvation. We have all met people who are living worldly and carnal lives apart from the church of Jesus Christ while claiming to embrace a doctrine titled, “once saved always saved.” The problem with such statements is that it completely ignores the present tense reality of salvation that Jesus, James, and Paul all taught.
There is nothing wrong with chronicling the lives of children, writing their spiritual birthday in their Bible, or even talking about what a special day it was when they trusted Christ for salvation and followed in believer’s baptism. The problem arises when we emphasize everything about our salvation on a calendar date. It’s dangerous for a person to cling to a date as the proof of their salvation. Everyday we should have new evidences and markers that identify us with Christ. If Jesus became our Lord in the past, He remains the Lord today. Our lives will demonstrate that truth each day.
Rather than stepping off into eternity clinging onto a calendar date or event, let us finish our course singing, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.” For those of us who have been saved, we know that we were once saved (in the past) from the penalty of sin. We are being saved (presently) from the power of sin. One day in eternity (future event), we will be saved from the presence of sin. We have been saved, we are currently being saved, and we will be saved in the future. We were justified in the past. We are being sanctified in the present. One day we will be glorified in the future. If we have been saved in the past and we have assurance that we will be saved in the future, our present lifestyle should provide sure evidence of a life yielded to Christ.
Paul Washer has written, “Let the struggling believer be comforted; let the apathetic church member be warned. The great evidence of true conversion is God’s ongoing work of sanctification in our lives.”2
Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Josh Buice
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1. John Piper – “When Is It Dangerous to Look at Jesus?”
2. Paul Washer, The Gospel Call & True Conversion, 188.